Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Exercise in Poetic Analysis

In order to read and interpret the Written Torah skillfully, one must have a sense of appreciation for nuance in literature in general. I enjoyed the imagery and flow of the following anonymously composed poem, "The Door", so I thought I would share it with the readership to elicit their reactions and responses. It can serve as a nice exercise in the analysis of literature in terms of both form and substance. Please consider the following questions:

1) What descriptive elements, metaphors, etc., of the poem, if any, strike you as especially compelling? What aspects do you find weaker?

2) What stylistic features of the poem stand out? Are any of the turns of phrase particularly smooth? Are any of the expressions too cumbersome? Is the style even throughout, or does it change at certain points? What do you think the motive of the author is in shaping the poem the way it is?

3) Overall, what would you say is the essential message of the work? What is it about the poem that determined your impression of its purpose?

I will chime in with my own musings later...For now, here is the poem:

THE DOOR

The door was ajar

Gleam of freedom’s seductive smile

Wrapped like tiny fingers around its edge;

So he left,

Carried on the feet of a first night ballerina

Gracefully buckling under adrenaline’s weight;

Tiptoeing around the ignorant snores

Of a poorly paid watchman

And back to his very own Waldorf Astorian hovel

Perched gloriously amidst beer cans and metal detectors.

The surprised arms of the girl of his dreams greeted him

Hovering about him so as not to break him

Tantalizing him with their almost warmth,

Her vision still confounded by a misty bewilderment

-Because, after all, what was he doing there?

His boss on the other hand patently unfazed

For they all knew it was a mistake

And he’d one day return to join them.

So he rested,

Satisfaction bathing him like the cool massage

Of a million sprinkler kisses

Consoling victims of summer sun’s piracy.

Alas, he should have realized

That the coveted award of solace

Was not to be so easily conferred;

For then the nauseating ebb and flow

Of a shrill familiar battle cry descended,

Desecrating his moment with self-righteous blasphemy;

Cheap gyrating lights of a hellish disco invading paradise

Suffocated him with their insistence.

So he ran,

Ruthlessly dragging iron limb by iron limb

Like parents of a stubborn little child who just won’t move;

Olympic muscles straining as if to race past themselves,

A silent prayer tossed heavenward

Beseeching Father Time for some small respite -

But his steely sleek competitor was unimpressed,

And with the cockiness of an amateur brush

Clumsily plumbed the palette of his misery;

A bright crimson mosaic now taking shape

On the crumbling asphalt canvas,

Concrete soaking in every hue of aspiration,

Life wriggling to wrest itself from the grasp

Of desperation decomposed.

It was all because of the door

Its accidental sliver of sunlight and shadow

Coaxing him with destiny’s charm;

It was all because of the door

Waving motionlessly, impossible to let alone

Like a sore you can’t help irritating just to feel the pain

Or an eclipse you stare at stupidly against the teacher's orders;

It was all because of the door

Rattling off promises of godforsaken blessing

Like a used car salesman who knows the truth;

It was all because of the door

Rusty gate leading to a garden of regrets

Portal to what could have been;

It was all because of the door

Extravagant prelude to a premature conclusion

Memorable introduction to a forgotten litany;

It was all because of the door,

Leading an ambitious actor

Decked out in raiment of oblivious glamour

To his final curtain call;

Yes, it was all because of the door -

So he shut it.



59 comments:

moonlight1021 said...

Hello Rabbi, Thank you for this nice poem. I paralleled the message of the poem to the following song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olM10WRF_Fg

"Temptation" by Tom Waits

Rusted brandy in a diamond glass
everything is made from dreams
time is made from honey slow and sweet
only the fools know what it means
temptation, temptation, temptation
oh, temptation, temptation, I can't resist
I know that she is made of smoke
but I've lost my way
she knows that I am broke
so that I must play
temptation, temptation, temptation
oh, whoa, temptation, temptation, I can't resist
Dutch pink and Italian blue
she is waiting there for you
my will has disappeared
now my confusions oh so clear
temptation, temptation, temptation
whoa, whoa, temptation, temptation
I can't resist.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Temptation is definitely an aspect of the theme of the poem, but I think there is somewhat of a twist here as well - the question of whether we are too cautious about taking risks because we assume that the pursuit of unconventional opportunities will lead to tragic consequences. We tend to stick with what is simple and familiar because we imagine that the cost of bucking convention is too high.

moonlight1021 said...

Thank you for the explanation. Certainly, as to reflect on the idea of "taking risks"/making changes, I'd say the psychology of addictions is deeply rooted in an established so-called routine whereas the one in question would not take the "risk" to break away from bad habits. On the other hand, I'd also agree that "the pursuit of unconventional opportunities" is that which may lead to major discoveries in our world. Yes, I noticed a "kabbalistic twist/turn" if I may call it this way: "The door was ajar", implying a passive mood since it does not say someone opened it, and then at the end, "Yes, it was all because of the door- So he shut it."-pointing to an action performed by the character just described. At first, I thought it's so ironic to blame it all on the "door", an inanimate object, on the other hand, since the door was ajar, the poem does not specify who opened it, so one may also argue it that it is the "fault of the door" or rather it implies that the actions later conveyed in the poem are environmental influences or could have been caused by someone else, other than this "he". So, in a way the door has a dual role, it represents the opportunity towards temptation when open but also the barrier when closed. I was just wondering, do the events in the poem actually happen as described within the poem? Are we referring to someone who experienced all of this and learned his lesson or maybe not? It seems to me that at the end, the mood of the poem is a bit surreal, as if it all happened in a theater-like performance, or in a daydreaming experience, that in the end, all the actions just described are simply justifications for closing the door because maybe this "he" already knew what lies outside the door. How much value do we give to the statements just before the last 2 verses, do we say it was all staged including the beginning or maybe just partially staged, and from this point on, the person realized it's time to close the door? Thank you.

moonlight1021 said...

In Sherlock Holmes style, I may also venture to argue that the fact that the poem opens with the statement that the door 'was ajar', would imply that at a certain moment in time the door was actually closed (the door opens and closes=it's a dynamic movement, but ajar implies something less than open), and that how the individual in the poem liked it to be maybe from the beginning anyway. Then, the actions just described were justifications for bringing back the door to the way it was, closed--and I might also argue that the individual in question might have liked a life of "routine" (which may not necessarily be bad in certain cases) since he "shut it", bringing the door back to an original position (close/shut, not in between).But then again,this is said so by decreasing the value of what happens in between, because there's also the argument that one had to go through certain experiences from which he learned his lesson.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Moonlight, from your comments I can infer that you have a good grasp of the "peshat" and "derash" levels of the poem, and the ambiguities laced throughout. The interpretive options you present reflect a careful and thoughtful reading.

This is very encouraging because some other individuals I asked were unable to follow the piece at all, or missed key elements of the poetic narrative and/or theme!

moonlight1021 said...

Rabbi Maroof, Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate it. I will keep this poem in mind for a while as to think more about the remez and sod levels of the poem as well, although I'd venture to say that in poetry, these aspects may be better understood on a deeper level while taking into consideration the overall style, context/background, and vision/philosophy of the poet in relation to other works as well by the same author.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

RJM

I must confess I am one of those sorry individuals you point to in saying:

"other individuals I asked were unable to follow the piece at all".

Poetry is a medium I feel totally lost in. What is the method of entry?

moonlight1021 said...

Sorry I just saw the comment, so seeing the method of reference- well, then I don't know the method of entry either so I'm asking the same question as Rabbi Sacks since directly or indirectly, I answered from what I learned from Rabbi Sacks and I think Rabbi Sacks is actually asking more on the lines of Emily Dickinson:

"I'm nobody! Who are you?" by Emily Dickinson

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

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